Espen Geelmuyden Rød
Uppsala University & PRIO
The book is about how digital technology shapes political repression, which Feldstein tackles by investigating global patterns and developments in three countries (Thailand, the Philippines, and Ethiopia). The discussion incorporates governments, civil society and opposition actors, international actors (especially China), and private companies. While comprehensive, the book is remarkably engaging and easy to read. The book's first part, where the author lays out the nuts and bolts of digital repression and embeds it in traditional repressive structures, is illuminating. The categorization of repressive techniques – surveillance, censorship, social manipulation and disinformation, internet shutdowns, and targeted persecution of online users – highlights possible roads to digital repression as the repertoire keeps expanding and changing. The empirical chapters are thought-provoking, uncovering how digital repression techniques vary by regime type, digital capacity, and time. Further, the case studies highlight the dynamics of digital repression in volatile political environments. At the same time, they make me ponder the consequences of digital repression in stable autocracies and mature democracies. The final part of the book looks into the future. In the chapter on AI and big data, new concepts are introduced. While engaging, the rationale for separating these topics from the rest of the book is unclear. Undoubtedly, AI and big data are also part of current political repression. The final chapter presents ideas for pushing back against digital repression. It offers a refreshing and hopeful take on an otherwise gloomy topic. Policy-makers, democracy activists, and tech companies should take note of the book's numerous, well-informed suggestions for combating digital repression.