Book Review: The Net Delusion by Evgeny Morozov

On: September 22, 2011
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About Sebastiaan Smink
Study: BA degree New Media (University of Amsterdam) MA student New Media (University of Amsterdam) Work: Dancefair.nl Passion: Electronic music

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In his book ‘The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World’ Belarusian-born writer Evgeny Morozov finely describes and critiques a delusion he calls cyber-utopianism: the believe that online communication technologies have the power to liberate, democratize. Many people today believe that social network sites can reinvent social activism. Instead Morozov, a digital-scepticist so to say, argues that digital tools like Facebook and Twitter “are simply, well, tools, and social change continues to involve many painstaking, longer-term efforts to engage with political institutions and reform movements.”[1] The book not only shows that you need more than just a Twitter account to start a revolution. The Net Delusion also tells us how the internet is being used by authoritarian regimes to control and deliberate. Morozov cleverly states that the Internet “penetrates and reshapes all walks of political life, not just the ones conductive to democratization.”[2]

According to Morozov authoritarian regimes are benefiting from the Internet more than we may think. In the book he claims that the Internet and online communication technologies are often used by authoritarian regimes to monitor and regulate potential threats to authoritarian regimes. By blogging, twittering and using Facebook people give these dictatorships endless amounts of useful information for free. Next to that these regimes are training, hiring and paying bloggers to engage with people on this online platforms and communities. Spreading propaganda and monitoring your protesting civilians was never so easy and low of costs.

Moreover Morozov tackles the idea that the Internet would make citizens of authoritarian states more critical and informed about their country. Morozov states, “The most popular Internet searches on Russian search engines are not for ‘what is democracy?’ or ‘how to protect human rights’ but for ‘what is love?’ and ‘how to lose weight.’ ”[3] In this way the Internet is functioning as opium for the masses and is numbing and dumbing their users down.

Another delusion that Morozov critiques in his book is what he call cyber-centrism. “Internet-centrist like to answer every question about democratic change by first reframing it in terms of the internet rather than the context in which that change is to occur. […] All too often, [Internet-centrists] fashion themselves as possessing full mastery of their favourite tool, treating it as a stable and finalized technology, oblivious to the numerous forces that are constantly reshaping the internet […]. Treating the Internet as a constant, they fail to see their own responsibility in preserving its freedom and reining in the ever-powerful intermediaries, companies like Google and Facebook.”[4]

The Net Delusion is a well-written book that is a good read to everyone that wants to hear something else than the hyped voice of the media. Morozov clearly exemplifies his findings with cases taken from all over the world. Moreover Morozov places phenomena like internet-centrism and cyber-utopianism in a broader, historical context. With examples taken from the past he shows his readers that technological determinism isn’t a twenty-first century symptom but something that can be found throughout history. Next to that Morozov’s appealing style of writing makes The Net Delusion one of my favourite books of I’ve read this year.

8/10

Buy The Net Delusion at Amazon

References:

[1] Evgeny Morozov, Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go, The Guardian 07-03-2011

[2] [3] [4] Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: How not to liberate te world, 2010

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